Dinosaur
Directed By:  Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton
Starring:  the vocal talents of D.B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, 
Ossie Davis, Max Casella, Alfre Woodard, Samuel E Wright,
Della Reese, Peter Siragusa, Joan Plowright
Rated:  PG (Violent dinosaur behavior and scary situations)
Running Time:  84 Min.
 
    Disney's Dinosaur is more a study in computer animation design than it is a feature film. The visuals are quite stunning, creating a nearly seamless blend of live-action backgrounds with computer generated characters.  However, when the novelty begins to wear off, about 10 minutes into the film, it becomes apparent that Dinosaur has no real story to tell.  In fact, what story it does tell is comprised of recycled situations from other movies. 

    Also, it seemed to me that the movie wasn't quite finished, specifically a second half to the first reel which doesn't exist.  The story abruptly jumps from the baby dinosaur Aladar, our main character, being found and adopted by a group of mammals (ala Tarzan) to Aladar as a nearly full grown dinosaur who has been accepted by all the mammals as one of their own.  Perhaps those at Disney assumed we all knew the "fish out of water" plotline, and spared us from having to see it again.  More likely is that the film was rushed for an early summer release, with many unfinished connecting scenes sacrificed to meet the deadline.  This would also account for Dinosaur's short 84 minute running time and the fact that we aren't properly introduced to many of the characters in the film.

    This was a fairly watchable film, right up until all the animals started talking.  After that, the magic and wonder of the fantastic visuals was completely lost.  Disney studios, under the direction of Walt Disney, had a great tradition of producing short nature films, in addition to all the other kiddie stuff.  The opening sequences of Dinosaur recall that lost fascination with the creatures of the wild, and, had it remained a serious recreation of Prehistoric Earth, really could have been a cinematic, if not box-office, winner.  A serious Dinosaur would be perfect for IMAX.  Unfortunately, the studio aimed lower, so as to attract its core audience of seven-year-olds, and favored the usual toy and fast food tie-ins over museum-quality educational entertainment.  The Smithsonian's loss is, well, Disney's loss too.  Even with the merchandising, I doubt that Dinosaur will recoup its astronomical production costs.

    Dinosaur is reported to have had a budget surpassing 140 million dollars, which equates to over 1.75 million dollars per minute.  I saw nothing onscreen that would substantiate such an expense.  Dinosaur may prove to be a very costly lesson for Disney; a lesson that many filmmakers should learn, which is that special effects alone can't carry a film.  There must be a solid story to back them up.

    A word of caution to parents of small children;  Kids under seven may find many of the dinosaurs frightening, and the dangerous situations depicted, such as drowning, being trapped in confined spaces, falling from great heights, getting eaten, etc... may be a cause for nightmares.  For comparison, the violent depictions here are similar to those seen in Jurassic Park.

    One last note:  The end of the film sets us up for a future sequel, which is a lame way to avoid having a proper ending. Don't hold your breath for that one.  If Disney learns its lesson, Dinosaur 2 will never happen.

Review published
May 30, 2000
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